Most Americans have little faith in the federal government to represent their interests. Who can blame them, when their fears are constantly affirmed by Washington’s shenanigans? According to polls, presidential and congressional approval ratings are hovering around an all-time low. Just 17 percent of American voters believe the federal government represents the will of the people.
That this skepticism is well placed is bad news for citizens who are looking to Washington to solve the problem of rising fuel and energy prices. It’s even more dire news for Americans on fixed and limited incomes.
With energy prices already skyrocketing, federal lawmakers wreaked more havoc by trying to pass heavy-handed regulatory legislation known simply as “cap and trade.” The legislation would impose stringent emission limits on energy and manufacturing industries. At the same time, many environmentalists admit that the legislation would have little to no impact on climate change. However, the bill would greatly increase hidden taxes and costs on consumers. The poor and middle class would be hardest hit.
The Religious Left and even some evangelicals are supportive of the legislation, rallying around a supposed “green” policy at the expense of the economically marginalized. With their support come odd statements like this one from the Rev. Jim Ball of the Evangelical Climate Initiative: “We agree that a cap-and-trade policy will spur innovation and will create new markets.” But even many expert economists who support cap and trade admit that it will have a negative effect on the economy.
Similar cap and trade measures are already law in Europe. Even the more socialist-minded citizens on that continent are trying to reform current law because carbon emission output has only increased, along with already high prices.
Under the proposed legislation, emissions would have to be slashed by 70 percent by 2050. It calls for an elaborate system of carbon welfare credits auctioned off by – you guessed it – bureaucrats and lawmakers. “This is easily the largest income redistribution scheme since the income tax,” declared the Wall Street Journal editorial page. Simply put, the bill’s aim is to radically decrease energy supply, while ignoring demand.
Fortunately, the bill did not pass the U.S. Senate, but you can be assured that lawmakers will redouble their efforts next year. There won’t be an obstructive president in their way, as both presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain support the bill’s intent, if not the current version. Many lawmakers for the time being have shifted to another unpopular policy of levying additional taxes on oil profits. But a majority of Americans understand this too will only reduce supply and raise prices.
Genuine efforts to increase the supply of energy have been summarily rejected by Congress on many occasions, even when the local populace and local elected officials of both parties supported taking action. The most famed example is the blocking of attempts to increase domestic oil production in places like ANWR, in Alaska. Unsurprisingly, support for domestic drilling nationally is about to reach a super-majority level. While the introduction of more domestic drilling won’t solve the nation’s short term or long term energy needs, it would provide much better results than congressional leaders have produced so far.
Concerned citizens and consumers waiting for action on deregulation, or even a consistent or coherent energy policy, will not find answers in Washington. Lawmakers seem intent on raising more revenue at the expense of private industry and lower wage earners, all the while buttressing themselves against future voter backlash with handouts and earmarks targeted to friends and supporters. A free market, which offers more solutions than an out of control tax and spend bureaucracy, will be further constrained in its ability to address our energy needs.
In a famed address in the 1970s, Jimmy Carter spoke to the nation about energy, and said the American people faced a crisis of confidence. Voters soon replaced their confidence crisis with new leadership that insisted more government was not the answer. While circumstances and challenges may be different, voters may not have the same option this time. Citizens might have to sit through a repeat of policies that hastened the energy crisis of the 1970s, coupled with brand new policies that exacerbate a problem already out of control. Very soon gasoline at $4 a gallon may seem like a bargain. And while the free market is ready to act and provide some relief, citizens can be assured that federal legislators are redoubling their own efforts to circumvent popular and common sense solutions.